Can Employee Resource Groups Bolster Productivity and Retention?

ERGs demonstrate that a company supports employees’ personal and professional contributions and well-being. Learn more about the benefits of these groups.

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Can Employee Resource Groups Bolster Productivity and Retention?

Here's what you need to know:

  • Employee resource groups are a way for workers to connect with colleagues with similar interests and challenges
  • It’s estimated that 90% of Fortune 500 companies in the U.S. currently have ERGs in the workplace
  • ERGs come in a variety of areas and sizes
  • When staff are involved in ERGs at work, they’re getting support and making connections at the office
  • This can increase employee well-being, growth, engagement, and retention, and help promote diversity

Business leaders can help employees build relationships and seek support from their peers, while at the same time, boosting productivity and retention among staff. The path to achieving these goals may be employee resource groups, or ERGs.

ERGs are a way for workers to connect with colleagues with similar interests and challenges. They provide an opportunity to discuss issues, share solutions, and build relationships.

When staff are involved in ERGs at work, they’re getting support and making connections at the office. This can create a strong incentive to stay put if there’s a temptation to look for another job.

ERGs come in a variety of areas and sizes. Companies can encourage staff members to create ERGs, or make suggestions on types of groups that can be assembled. Some ERG group members connect to discuss culture, faith (or interfaith), orientation, or other characteristics.

Some groups consist of working parents; others are for people of color, workers with disabilities, or veterans. Many ERGs center around age groups: young professionals may share concerns and tips on how to advance their career. More seasoned staff members may join in to provide advice and a pathway to mentorship.

Who’s using employee resource groups?

It’s estimated that 90% of Fortune 500 companies in the U.S. currently have ERGs in the workplace. These can range from groups that have commonalities like being in the LGBTQ+ community to quilting groups and everything in between.

The object is to create opportunities and spaces where employees can connect: then let them meet routinely to discuss whatever interests or issues they encounter.

Employers who promote ERGs in their organization see many benefits. Staff members are able to share their thoughts and concerns among like-minded individuals. ERGs can promote diversity within the company.

Employees who may never cross paths in their workdays may find connections with others in the company who share characteristics or interests. These relationship-building meetings can mean more networking, and a stronger link to the organization.

How can employers promote employee resource groups?

ERGs can begin organically: you may notice some staff members gravitate towards others for advice and support. Team leaders may suggest workers create an ERG to formalize discussions for additional assistance and even include others.

If they choose, ERGs can be employee-created and run. They require little intervention from the business, typically just available space and time for the group to meet.

You may suggest the company is open to employees creating their own ERGs. Emails or notifications in break or lunch rooms can promote the idea that employees sign up for or suggest a group that meets their needs and interests.

Start with a listing of potential ERG options. A bonus may be to suggest groups that meet your DEI and diversity initiatives.

You may want to promote groups that target new professionals or groups that pair more seasoned workers with those newer to the company to develop career plans and mentorship opportunities.

The possibilities are limitless — but discourage groups that are in clear opposition to the company’s core values.

If employees are always chatting about books they love to read, you may even suggest book club ERGs. The possibilities are limitless — but discourage groups that are in clear opposition to the company’s core values.

How to get employee resource groups started

Begin with the suggestion either at a company-wide level, or start among teams. Post notifications or send out memos that let workers know the company is open to providing space (and maybe even snacks) to employees who are interested in starting resource groups for themselves and peers.

Let staff members know they can benefit from the advice, support, and counsel of their colleagues. The groups may help them create or develop relationships, build a sense of community, and have an opportunity to grow and share together.

You may provide some suggested groups: common types are diversity resource groups which are either specific to people of color, Latino people, women, orientation, persons with a disability, veterans, etc.

Another type of ESG is an affinity group. These include common interests, faiths, volunteerism, or hobbies.

A 3rd type is professional development groups. These are groups where staff members network for advice or potential mentors.

Get the ball rolling with employee resource groups

Give employees an opportunity to suggest groups to HR or leadership. If approved, post or distribute signup sheets to see if there’s interest and find times when and where the group can meet.

You may find working parents would like to start a group, but after or before work hours may be challenging for them to meet. If you can, provide this type of group with a separate lunch area where they can meet and eat while they discuss and support each other.

Staff may start with large groups that break out into smaller, more targeted meetings. They may meet with a specific goal in mind, like coming up with solutions for a problem they commonly encounter. Or they may simply be a place to have discussions. The more focused the group, the more support the members may receive.

Suggest staff start with weekly or bi-weekly meetings to begin. There will be an initial ‘get to know each other’ time frame before they may feel comfortable sharing. Give them the option to determine ground rules for the group, if any.

There may be someone in the group, typically the person who may suggest sessions on a particular topic, that takes the lead with ideas for discussions. In other cases, the meetings are an open-forum type session.

Let staff members know you’re available to help, but they should take the lead in developing and directing how often they want to meet, and what the structure of the meetings should be.

What are the benefits of ERGs for companies and workers?

Employees and business can benefit from staff members forming and participating in resource groups. When groups are encouraged, staff members can find professional support, with ERGs that focus on:

  • How cultural or personal identity helps or challenges them in the workplace
  • Connecting with others for support
  • Building relationships among diverse workers
  • Creating awareness, acceptance, and value
  • Building personal and professional networks
  • Providing professional development opportunities

ERGs that focus more on affinities or common interests help staff members:

  • Share ideas, suggestions, and advice
  • Find common ground and expand acceptance in a diverse workforce
  • Build relationships and networks with others they may not otherwise encounter

Whatever the type of group, ERGs help staff members grow connections with each other, and by extension, to the workplace itself. When these groups meet successfully, staff members bond and create relationships.

Having a friend at work builds loyalty to the workplace: finding one can be challenging. ERGs open the door.

When staff members are connected with each other, even in different departments, engagement is higher. They have relationships within or outside their teams: that motivates staff to make sure the company is successful and their relationships can thrive.

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Encouraging ERGs can help to build a culture of support

In addition to the work you do to support employees, encouraging ERGs can help them support each other. Some groups provide direct workplace benefits, others build relationships.

ERGs that employees form to promote volunteerism can inspire others to join in and reap the personal rewards of helping others. No matter what the group discusses or shares, there can be growth and benefit.

For business, ERGs show your interest in workers as individuals as well as staff members. They can help you retain workers who otherwise may have few connections within the organization.

ERGs demonstrate that a company supports employees’ personal and professional contributions. One or many ERGs can create a sense of belonging: among peers and with the organization. That’s good for productivity and retention.

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